The Skinny is the new feature film from the very talented Patrik-Ian Polk, the creative mind behind Punks(2000), Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom (2008) and the Black gay television series Noah's Arc (2004). Polk gets very involved in making his movies. In the credits of The Skinny he is listed as responsible for directing, producing, writing, editing and casting the film! He also has written and performed (sometimes with the star) many of the songs on the soundtrack. At the world premiere, Polk announced he is distributing the film on his own to theaters. This film is clearly a labor of love.
The Skinny is about a group of Black gay friends who all attended Brown University together and are gathering in New York City for that city's LGBT Pride celebrations one year after they all graduated from college. The five friends are Magnus, a medical student who is hosting the crew at his parents' condo; Kyle, a sexy, sex-crazed "trustafarian" who lives in Los Angeles working in showbiz; Joey, a very tall, somewhat queeny cut-up who is languishing in Atlanta unemployed and living in the 'hood with his mom; Sebastian, the baby of the group who reveals early on that he is a virgin (despite spending the past 9 months in Paris!) and that he is so naive he has a crush on the hypersexual Kyle; and Langston, a beautiful lesbian with a posh British accent who is pursuing her Ph.D. at Yale. The one confusing part of the film for me was that all the friends are supposed to be approximately the same age (roughly one year out of college) but they are wildly varied in maturity levels. Sebastian seems far younger than his age (a reference to whiz kid or prodigy would have explained why he looks and seems to be in his late teens) while Magnus seems far older (and more responsible) than his age. But this is a somewhat minor quibble.
All of the actors playing the roles are very attractive, with Anthony Burrell (Kyle) and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (Joey) the standouts, to my taste; Joshua Cruz (Evan) plays an unfortunately too-small role as Joey's lust object later on but his pulchritude makes a lasting impression (great smile). Acting-wise, Jussie Smollett (Magnus) is the clear standout, demonstrating why he was cast as the lead, with Blake Young-Fountain (Sebastian) not far behind. Bowyer-Chapman (Joey) reveals (and revels in) his exquisite comic timing. Jennia Fredrique takes what is written as a relatively small role as Langston's lust object and kills every scene she is in.
Within minutes of when we first meet the entire gang of friends, Magnus and his boyfriend of 5 months named Ryan, who has tattoos all over his tight, muscled frame and a very butch (read: homo thug) demeanor, excuse themselves to engage in some "ridiculously heavy petting" while keeping their sexy underwear on (and the friends listen in from behind a locked door). Magnus' friends are clearly very curious to meet his very first serious boyfriend in a long time and Joey, for one, is most definitely not impressed with what he sees and unabashed about letting everyone know his opinion. The others are willing to give Ryan a chance but very soon some information discovered by Kyle about Ryan comes to light which throws the stability of Magnus' relationship and the weekend of frolicking planned by the group of friends into grave doubt.
I don't want to reveal too much of the story because I want readers of this review to experience the clever plot for themselves. One of Polk's great strengths is putting his characters into believable situations and writing pitch-perfect dialogue. These strengths are ever-present in The Skinny. Happily, another of his strengths is his clear-eyed view of sexual situations. One of the people I spoke to who I encouraged to see the film called it "soft core porn" because "every 5 minutes someone's having sex" (as if there's something wrong with that!) I strongly disagree with this reductive characterization, because although I would be comfortable describing The Skinny as a Black gay sex comedy (with serious overtones), I think that as a director Polk does an excellent job of suggesting a lot more sex then actually appears on screen. Although there is (very brief) nudity in the film, there is surprisingly little in each of the many sex scenes. Mostly, we just get a lot of set up shots of a passionate embrace or glimpses of athletic coupling with a quick cutaway so the rest is left to the audience's over-stimulated imagination. That being said, I also think that as Black gay people we are so unaccustomed to seeing frank depictions of Black gay sexuality, that when it does actually occur, we are likely to be surprised and perhaps even a little overwhelmed.
However, I also think this aversion for depictions of Black gay sexuality on screen is different for different generations. In my mind, Polk clearly made this film for up-and-coming Black gay kids, people who have come out in a world where marriage equality is an actual reality and RuPaul is a prime time television star. There are some very important pieces of information that every young Black gay kid should know, and Polk depicts them in the film (standard safer sex information, the golden rule about never ever leaving a club without all your friends who you went to the club with) and even includes a side-splitting (and extremely graphic) description of how to "prepare" to engage in anal sex. This is a film which will educate as it titillates an entire generation of Black gays.
Polk has given this generation The Skinny, and we should all be thankful for it. I wish I had been able to see a movie with as much basic information about navigating a healthy Black gay identity when I was first coming out. I truly believe that because of The Skinny the Black LGBT community will be wiser and stronger in the future.
Now go out there and watch the movie (when it comes to a movie theater in a large urban area near you) and support meaningful and well-made Black gay cinema. Plus, I promise you, you will laugh your *** off!
Title: The Skinny.
Director: Patrik-Ian Polk.
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated..
Release Date: April 6, 2012.
Viewing Date: April 7, 2012.
Overall Grade: A- (3.67/4.0).